Rennie opens up about injury concerns ahead of French series
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has confirmed a hamstring injury will prevent former National Rugby League flyer Suliasi Vunivalu from making his Test debut against France.
However, Wallaby playmaker James O’Connor is expected to be fit, after a neck injury sidelined him for the last couple of weeks in from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.
‘Connor missed the Reds’ match against Auckland Blues last weekend, with Rennie revealing the in-form flyhalf needed rest after suffering pains in his neck.
“He’s been getting stingers for the last four or five weeks and it came to a head [so] he missed last weekend,” Rennie told reporters on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where the Wallabies are setting up camp.
“He’s going to miss this weekend [Reds v Hurricanes], but we anticipate him being all right [for the Tests].”
Rennie said O’Connor, who recently signed a contract extension that will take him through to the 2023 World Cup, had been “outstanding” this year for the Reds after leading them to the Super Rugby AU title.
The good news on O’Connor was countered with the confirmation of Vunivalu’s injury.
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Vunivalu hobbled off the field in Queensland’s 31-24 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman loss to the Blues last weekend and Rennie said the injury is significant enough to rule him out of the three-Test series against the French next month.
“Obviously a reasonably serious hamstring injury,” Rennie told AAP.
“That’s going to see him miss the French series and we’ll know a little bit more detail beyond that but he certainly won’t be available for France.”
Despite the setback, Rennie was hopeful Vunivalu will have the opportunity to make his Test debut later in the international season.
“We’re really happy with his progress. The Reds have done a really good job with him,” Rennie said.
“Disappointing for him but his job really is to rehab quickly and try and get back.
“We’ve got a lot of Tests and so there’s a lot of opportunities for him to still play for us.”
While O’Connor’s place in the Test side is seemingly locked in, Rennie said there were still spots up for grabs as Super Rugby Trans-Tasman enters its final regular-season round.
“We’ve probably got about 80 percent of the squad nailed and there’s a handful of performances that are going to be important this weekend to make our final decision,” he said.
Rennie named an extended 40-man squad for the France series in March but indicated a willingness to look beyond that group to bolster the Wallabies’ playing stocks.
He confirmed that options included lock Izack Rodda, returning from a short stint in France, and Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, who has signed for Montpellier next season.
But Rennie was against the widespread selection of overseas-based stars, saying it was against the best interests of the game in Australia.
“If we’ve got our best players here playing with the kids coming through it’s going to improve the quality of the clubs and our competition,” he said.
“If we pick wholesale, like South Africa and Argentina do from Europe and Japan, players will leave in droves because they can earn three times the amount of money.”
The three-Test series against France begins in Sydney on July 7.
Rennie is unfazed about concerns the French are reportedly unhappy about strict quarantine requirements before their travel to Australia.
The Wallabies coach is confident the issues will be sorted and hasn’t been forced to make changes to his own plans due to the uncertainty.
“As we know, from last year, we thought our first Test was in Brisbane and two weeks later, we were in Wellington,” Rennie said.
“It is what it is.
“What I know is, from a quarantine point of view, it’s pretty good for the sporting teams, like we had in New Zealand and like the Argentineans had here in Australia.
“The French will be able to come in, they’ll be able to train fully and prepare well. I’m sure there are no issues around it.”
Sources: AFP & AAP